Falling into the political void

It is a rule in politics: The new leader bows solemnly before his predecessor, sings his praises and then, after a pause, begins to undermine all that the latter left behind. The idea is that the new leader must build on the work of the old, but in his own way, with his own dynamism. By honoring the previous leader, the new one gives the people a sense of security and stability; by subverting past achievements, the new leader wants to show that he has seen the mistakes that were made and will not repeat them.

In Greece, though, what we keep seeing is the total trashing of whatever was achieved and then the faithful repetition of past errors — either because enthusiasm for destruction is greater than that for creation, or because the storied predecessor did not leave much behind. The essence is that for many years our political leaders did little more than lay their little stone on the slippery road to today?s dead end.

In this context of big words and hollow promises, Evangelos Venizelos?s Mega TV interview on Wednesday, his first since he became PASOK leader, was of particular interest. He distanced himself so much from decisions taken by his predecessor, George Papandreou, that one wondered not only whether both were in the same government but whether they were on the same planet. Venizelos criticized Papandreou?s monumental but fraudulent pre-election claim that ?money is abundant? as well as the lack of communication within the latter?s government. He lamented the six months wasted after the 2009 elections before the government began to take measures and he condemned the first memorandum as ?insufficient.? In short, Venizelos appeared to agree with the actions of the government of which he was a part only after the time that he became deputy prime minister and took charge of the finance portfolio — although he did describe as a ?miscalculation? Papandreou?s subsequent proposal for a referendum (a proposal that Venizelos initially supported).

The truth is that the Papandreou government made a series of errors which disappointed PASOK voters and sent the party?s poll ratings plummeting. Venizelos is obliged to distance himself from them and propose something new. But if he doesn?t show self-confidence in supporting the reforms Papandreou?s PASOK was forced to adopt, while Antonis Samaras?s New Democracy remains too frightened to be linked to them, the two parties which owe it to Greece to solve the problems they created will lack both a past and proposals for the way ahead. Again they will be asking for our votes with the promise that they will change everything. And they will change nothing.